Oats are undoubtedly one of the healthiest grains in existence, since they’re loaded with fiber, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and D. But they can be a bit, well, bland. Even if you know that starting your day with oats sets you up for success, in no small part because of the energy-producing B vitamins they contain, you may feel less than thrilled about starting your day with the breakfast equivalent of khaki slacks.
The thing is, oats are way more versatile than we give them credit for! To inspire you to see the possibilities oats hold, we put together a refresher on exactly why oats are so good for you as well as the different kinds of oats. Then we get into the really exciting stuff: five unexpected oat recipes that can convert haters to super fans.
Why Are Oats Good for You?
Oats rank as one of the most popular grains around the world, in part due to their myriad health benefits, including heart health, weight loss and maintenance, and blood sugar control for type 2 diabetes. Oats and oat products, such as oat bran (the outer portion of the oat grain) and oat flour, have been shown to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure.
The oat plant, Latin name Avena sativa, is a cereal grain grown for its oat kernels, which humans have eaten for centuries. Wild oats first grew in the Fertile Crescent, but weren’t domesticated until Europe’s Bronze Age. Oats have also been a historically important crop for livestock feed.
Because oats are unprocessed whole grains, meaning they retain their entire germ, endosperm, and bran, they’re quite nutrient-rich. Oats contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, plant-based protein, and even small amounts of essential fatty acids.
A Detailed Breakdown of the Nutrients Found in Oats
According to an in-depth nutritional profile compiled by The World’s Healthiest Foods, a 1/4-cup serving of oats contains the following nutrients:
- 151.7 calories
- 6.6 grams of protein
- 4.1 grams of fiber
- 2.7 grams of fat
- 1.9 milligrams of manganese
- 28.7 milligrams of molybdenum
- 204 milligrams of phosphorus
- 0.24 milligrams of copper
- 7.8 milligrams of biotin
- 0.30 milligrams of vitamin B1
- 69 milligrams of magnesium
- 5.4 milligrams of chromium
- 1.5 milligrams of zinc
Oats are known for their valuable dietary fiber content, which is mostly a soluble fiber called beta glucan that helps to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Beta glucans have also been shown to increase bile acid production and decrease blood sugar and insulin levels after a carb-heavy meal.
The amount of fiber depends on the type of oat. For instance, whole oats are made up of approximately 11% fiber, while porridge contains only 1.7% fiber.
Soluble fiber also helps slow digestion and increase satiety and the feeling of fullness, making oats of every kind a worthwhile addition to a diet plan.
How Many Kinds of Oats Are There?
There are 5 basic types of oats, differentiated primarily by how long it takes to cook each variety, as well as their texture once cooked.
Whole Oat Groats
Whole-grain oats are the absolute least processed version available. To make whole oat groats, you simply harvest raw oats, clean them, and remove their inedible hulls. That’s it. These are less popular than other varieties because they take quite a long time to become tender, typically between 50 minutes and an hour. You can find them in some health food stores as well as from certain online retailers.
Also quite minimally processed, steel-cut oats are oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces by a sharp steel blade. This allows the oats to cook faster, because water can penetrate the smaller pieces more easily. They tend to take between 20 and 30 minutes to prepare. Steel-cut oatmeal has a chewier texture than the old-fashioned rolled oats that are most familiar to many living in the United States. You may also see steel-cut oats sold as Irish oatmeal.
Not to be confused with Irish oatmeal, but also not all that different. Rather than using a blade to cut the oats, the Scottish tradition is to stone-grind oat groats. This still breaks them into pieces, but the sizes vary more. They cook in about the same time as steel-cut oats do, but some say the grinding process gives Scottish oatmeal a creamier texture.
To make rolled oats, also called old-fashioned oats in the United States, you first steam the groats to soften them, then you press them between rollers, and finally dry them. This stabilizes the fats found in oats, so they stay fresh longer, and increases their surface area so they cook even quicker—they’re usually ready in a mere 5 minutes.
Quick or Instant Oats
These have the same nutrition content as other oats, but a noticeably different texture. They cook the fastest of all the varieties because they’re steamed even longer and pressed even thinner than traditional rolled oats. Instant oatmeal can appear quite powdery, due to the small size of the oats.
5 Unexpected Oat Recipes to Turn Haters into Super Fans
Now that you’re clear on all the reasons why you should be eating oats, as well as the different types of oats there are to choose from, let’s get into some truly exciting and unexpected ways to eat them beyond a bowl of oatmeal, granola, and muesli.
Try Our Overnight Oats Smoothie Bowl
We might be a little biased, but we think this just might be the best overnight oats recipe out there. Why? Well, because we crossed this traditional breakfast cereal with a smoothie bowl.This fusion recipe is anything but boring. With some simple prep the night before, this healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free smoothie bowl comes together in just 5 minutes! Bananas and raspberries bring serious flavor, plus potent phytonutrients, while chia seeds and beet powder give you the extra boost of energy so many of us could use in the morning.
Get the recipe here.
Make Matcha Oatcakes
Have you heard of The Oatmeal Artist? Lauren Smith, the genius behind the site, whips up innovative oatmeal recipes that have been featured on Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and other news sites. One of our favorite sections on the site is her collection of oatcake recipes. If you can’t get into oatmeal, just turn it into good-for-you pancakes! This recipe for Matcha Oatcakes with Maple-Persimmon Compote is a true standout. Smith suggests complementing the compote with even more toppings of your choosing, such as coconut, black sesame seeds, red bean paste, fresh berries, or even coconut whipped cream.
Get the recipe here.
Power Yourself with Superfood Oat Balls
Move over oatmeal cookies. This Superfood Energy Ball recipe from Brittany Mullins, health coach and creator of the blog Eating Bird Food, combines 7 ingredients to create a delicious and portable breakfast or snack option. The recipe, which makes 15 balls, contains a full cup of nutritious oats, plus almond butter, flaxseed, and other wholesome ingredients. When stored in the fridge, these Superfood Oats Balls stay fresh for at least a week, but given how good they taste, we doubt they’ll last that long.
Get the recipe here.
Indulge in Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal
Registered dietician Kath, who blogs full-time at Kath Eats Real Food, writes that she loves having baked pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast: “It’s gooey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and lovely to reheat the next day.” Her recipe can be made as a loaf or in a muffin tin, which she notes is the ideal format for serving to kids. To make removing the baked oatmeal bites from the muffin tin easier, she suggests rubbing coconut oil into each cup before pouring in the batter, then allowing them to cool for a full 20 minutes after taking them out of the oven.
Get the recipe here.
Give Your Oatmeal Bowl a Savory Update
Savory oats? If you’ve never tried it, you may be skeptical, but trust us, it’s a brilliant idea. This savory oatmeal recipe is a tribute to “Mama Lin” from her daughter, Lisa Lin, who blogs full-time at Healthy Nibbles. “These days, Mama Lin is very diligent about starting her day with a bowl of oats. ‘Us old people,” she always says, “need to eat oatmeal to stay healthy and live longer,’” Lin writes. “So, in honor of Mama Lin, I’m sharing this scrumptious bowl of savory oats.” Scrumptious is the right word for this savory oatmeal bowl, which pairs goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, chives, chopped almonds, and a poached egg. And we’re always in favor of adding a blueberry or two a bowl of oats!
Get the recipe here.